Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the determination of the district court to quiet title in certain property to Zinvest, LLC, holding that the Department of Revenue’s defective property tax assessment voided the tax lien sale that resulted in Zinvest acquiring the Gallatin County’s interest. Gunnersfield Enterprises Inc. purchased five condominium units and an adjoining vacant lot in 2008. The deed was properly recorded, and a realty transfer certificate was submitted to the Department of Revenue, but the Department did not correctly update its ownership records for the vacant lot. While Gunnersfield paid the tax assessments for the condominium units yearly, the County Treasurer continued to send the tax bills for the vacant lot to the previous owner. The Treasurer eventually sold the lot for delinquent taxes and assigned its tax lien interest in the property to Zinvest. After Zinvest acquired a tax deed on the property Gunnersfield objected. The district court granted summary judgment for Zinvest and issued a final judgment quieting title to Zinvest. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for entry of judgment quieting title in Gunnersfield, holding that the tax assessment on the vacant lot was void, and therefore, the subsequent tax lien sale and issuance of a tax deed were also void. View "Zinvest v. Gunnersfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of this putative class action for lack of standing. Taxpayers, owners of real property and payers of property taxes in Glacier County, paid their taxes under protest 2015 in response to an independent audit that revealed deficiencies in the County’s budgeting and accounting practices. Taxpayers sued the County and the State, alleging that both entities failed to comply with budgeting and accounting laws. The district court denied class certification and dismissed the case for lack of standing, concluding that Taxpayers failed to demonstrate that they had suffered a concrete injury. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined that Taxpayers lacked standing to sue either the County or the State. View "Mitchell v. Glacier County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision affirming the decision by the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board denying Joyce Crouse’s claim for unemployment benefits. The district court affirmed the Board’s conclusion that Crouse did not qualify for unemployment benefits because her voluntary termination did not constitute “good cause” pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 39-51-2302. The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court, holding (1) the findings of the Board were supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the district court correctly affirmed the Board’s decision to deny Crouse’s claim for benefits because she voluntarily resigned her position. View "Crouse v. State, Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Plaintiffs that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) by issuing a wastewater discharge permit for a “big box” retail merchandise store. DEQ appealed. Intervenors and current owners of the site (Landowners) joined the appeal and also appealed the district court’s summary judgment that MEPA requires DEQ to identify the owner or operator of the contemplated retail store. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court erred in concluding that DEQ violated MPEA, in contravention of Admin. R. M. 17.4.609(3)(d) and (e), by failing to further consider the environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the facility other than water quality impacts and impacts of the related construction of the required wastewater treatment system; and (2) the district court correctly concluded that DEQ must identify and disclose the actual contemplated owner or operator of the facility for which the applicant seeks the subject wastewater discharge permit. View "Bitterrooters for Planning, Inc. v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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J.S. challenged her involuntary commitment to the Montana State Hospital (MSH). The only issue J.S. raised on appeal waswhether she was denied the effective assistance of counsel. J.S. suffered from bipolar disorder. She exhibited signs of psychosis and delusions after being “clipped” by a car and hit by the car’s mirror. She sustained several cuts and abrasions. Less than a month after being hit by a car, J.S. was taken to the emergency room for a severe cut on her leg that was untreated. J.S. was unable to communicate due to her extreme level of psychosis and delusional thinking. She was paranoid, irritable, and unable to consent to voluntary treatment. The cuts were dead tissue, which if not treated correctly, could have lead to the loss of the limb. Treatment of the wound required J.S. to change the dressings twice a day and take two antibiotics, one of which J.S. had to take four times a day and the other two times a day. J.S. would need to maintain supplies, and health officials were concerned, due to her presenting mental condition, J.S. would be unable to care for herself. The State sought to involuntarily commit J.S. to MSH. The district court ordered the commitment, and J.S. appealed, raising only an ineffective-assistance claim, rather than challenge the commitment itself. The Montana Supreme Court found no Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel for a civil commitment proceeding, and as such, rejected J.S.’ claim. The order of commitment was affirmed. View "Matter of J.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court entered after a jury concluded that Defendant violated Montana campaign finance and practices laws during his 2010 primary campaign for Senate District 35. The district court trebled the verdict amount and entered judgment in the amount of $68,232.58. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commissioner of Political Practices satisfied the statutory procedures for filing a judicial action against Defendant; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant’s motions in limine to exclude two witnesses from testifying as experts; (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion for a new trial; and (4) the district court acted within its discretion in trebling the verdict amount. View "Commissioner of Political Practices for State of Montana v. Wittich" on Justia Law

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Todd Carlson, who began construction on a detached garage on his property in a subdivision without first obtaining a zoning compliance permit, requested a variance from the Yellowstone County Board of Adjustment. The board denied the variance request, noting that Carlson had not done his due diligence and had carelessly disregarded zoning regulations. The district court upheld the Board’s decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly declined to second-guess the Board’s discretionary determinations and did not abuse its discretion in affirming the Board’s denial of Carlson’s variance request. View "Carlson v. Yellowstone County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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The Clark Fork Coalition and four individuals (collectively, the Coalition) challenged the validity of an administrative rule promulgated by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation concerning groundwater appropriations exempt from permitting requirements. The district court invalidated the rule, and the Supreme Court affirmed. The Coalition moved for fees under the private attorney general doctrine. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the private attorney general doctrine applied because the Coalition vindicated important constitutional interests. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Coalition failed to show that the litigation vindicated constitutional interests, and therefore, the district court abused its discretion in concluding that the Coalition could recover fees under the private attorney general doctrine. View "Clark Fork Coalition v. Tubbs" on Justia Law

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Dawn McGee, who was receiving public assistance in the form of SNAP benefits, and Helge Naber were an unmarried couple living together with their five collective children. When the Department of Health and Human Services learned that Naber was living with McGee it sent McGee a notice requesting income information for Naber. McGee did not send the requested information, and the Department terminated McGee’s benefits. The Board of Public Assistance and district court upheld the Department’s determination. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Department was required to terminate McGee’s SNAP benefits when the household, including Naber, refused to provide the income information that the Department requested. View "McGee v. State Department of Public Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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After the Montana Department of Justice informed employees of the Deer Lodge office of the Department’s Title and Registration Bureau (TRB) that the office would be formally closed, Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violations of the public’s rights to know and participate. Plaintiffs ultimately sought an order setting aside the Department’s decision to close the TRB office. The district court entered judgment in favor of the Department. Plaintiffs appealed but did not move to stay the district court’s judgment, and the Department relocated the TRB functions to its Helena offices. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims were moot because the circumstances of this case precluded effective relief that would meaningfully remedy the department’s alleged disregard of the public notice and participation requirements of Title 2, chapter 3, Mont. Code Ann. View "City of Deer Lodge v. Fox" on Justia Law